I was blessed to grow up with great parents. We didn’t have much, but my parents made sure my sister and I had love, discipline, faith, strong values, and an appreciation for the value of hard work. My mother played a vital role in our family, as all mothers do, but I find as I grow older that I am most like my father. I pass many of the lessons he taught me on to my own children and still look to him for wisdom and advice. Look back on your own upbringing. What role did your father play? Were there other role models? Just as many of us live out the lessons we learned in our youth, our children will someday emulate us. They are always watching and we have to decide if we will be their heroic role models who consistently set the right example or relinquish our fatherly responsibilities to a host of bad societal influences. Which will it be?
Our family enjoyed a visit last summer from my then seventy-four-year-old father. These last few years have been difficult for all of us, especially my father, as my mother passed away in 2010 after a long illness. My parents were married for nearly half a century, a rare thing these days. My mother was his best friend, partner and wife, as well as an inspiration to all who knew her.
I recall how we awkwardly spoke of our feelings of loss during his visit and the conversation turned to reflection and a walk down memory lane. Old memories came flooding back for both of us, and I also learned valuable lessons as my dad shared experiences and insights into the multitude of tough decisions he and mom had made over the years. I was very grateful in that moment to realize my dad never missed an opportunity to share lessons that would help me be a better father, husband, and man. That has always been his way. My mother had a similar approach, rooted in a loving style, which I remember fondly.
That conversation and countless others like it over the years with my father has been the catalyst for a lot of introspection about my life and the lives of my children. I know my parents live on in me and their influence often manifests itself in how I behave as a parent, husband, leader, and friend to others. Isn’t this the way it plays out for all of us? Don’t we hear the reverberating echoes of our parents’ and grandparents’ lessons in much of what we do and say as adults?
It wasn’t always so, as my younger days can attest. I went through typical teen rebellion, thought I knew more than my parents, and felt I could do better than their generation. I was blind to all of the wisdom they had poured into me my entire life. I took for granted the loving and encouraging home they made for our family. The values they taught me seemed old and tired to my teenage ears. I wasn’t appreciative of the work ethic they had instilled in me through their own tireless examples. I grew callous to the strong faith they held and walked away from church as a teenager, not to return to any kind of faith until I joined the Catholic Church in 2005 after two long decades in the spiritual wilderness. Through all of this, my parents never stopped praying for me. They never stopped trying to teach me about life and they never ceased to love me. I was blessed to have such a mother and am fortunate to have my father still with us.
I came to my senses in my mid-twenties and the many seeds my parents planted in me began to take root. To paraphrase a famous Mark Twain quote, I was amazed at how smart my parents had become in the years since I had moved away from home! There were numerous stumbling blocks in front of me back then as I was building my career, but I especially remember my father’s words of wisdom: “Do the right thing,” “Work hard and let your results speak for themselves,” “Treat others the way you want to be treated,” “Put others before yourself.” My mother was a loving and faith-filled woman who shared much in a simple smile or a warm hug while my father was the “teacher” in our home and I find myself sharing these bits of Dad’s wisdom with my own children. I am grateful for the solid foundation my parents, especially my father, laid for me when I was growing up.
Do you ever stop and reflect on the lessons you learned in your childhood? Do you share those lessons with your children? There is a desperate need today for a return to the values of past generations and for fathers willing to teach them. The “anything goes” mindset so pervasive in our culture today could benefit from clearer boundaries. Our children would only prosper if they could actually be children for a while and not forced to become shopping crazed consumers addicted to technology at increasingly younger ages. Teaching our kids about faith, values, morality, manners, and the importance of a good work ethic is a critical responsibility for parents today. What if we detach our kids from their electronic pacifiers and force them to play outside? I grew up with a bike, books, and a good imagination. Playing outside and reading were my principal pursuits as a kid and yet, somehow I survived. Harken back to what I hope will be positive memories of the lessons you learned from your parents and grandparents. Don’t we have a responsibility to pass along all that is noble and worthwhile to our children?
Twelve Practical Lessons to Teach Our Children
As I was thinking about some helpful advice to offer fathers in this post, I decided not to reinvent the wheel. Below is a list of twelve practical suggestions that come from my vivid memories of how my dad passed along important life lessons to me and my sister. Much of what you will read below was for our personal benefit when we were younger, but he also taught us what we should teach our own children as we reached adulthood. I think we could all make a similar list from our collective past and I hope you find this to be useful.
- Model the right behaviors, lead by example, and avoid “Do as I say, not as I do!”
- Teach the importance of faith, values, and the difference between right and wrong.
- Encourage excellence and independent thinking.
- Listen to their thoughts and ideas with patience and no judgment.
- Love your children without reservation, but also enough to say no when necessary.
- Expose them to God, nature, beauty, art, music, history, and different cultures.
- Give them quality time. Make family time the alternative to unhealthy habits.
- Instill an appreciation for hard work and how to be responsible with money.
- Create boundaries and explain the rules. Discipline is important.
- Respect your elders and authority. Be polite, courteous, and helpful to all.
- Inspire your children to give back to the community and help others.
- Challenge kids to develop their minds.
You may have a very different list, but these are some of the most impactful lessons my father taught me and ones I am trying to pass along to my children. It is a scary world out there and I see a generation of children not being equipped to succeed in today’s culture. If we don’t accept full responsibility for raising and teaching our children, then video games, TV, the Internet, and their peers will likely fill the void. That is the ugly reality.
I would like to dive a little deeper into teaching our kids about our Catholic faith. Men, we are called to be spiritual leaders as well as providers. Don’t delegate our children’s faith education to PSR (Parish School of Religion) or Catholic schools. Teaching must begin at home and taught by us working with our wives to set the right example. Here are five actions to consider.
- Prayer. Make our prayer lives a priority. Pray over all family meals. Pray with our children at bedtime. Go to Eucharistic Adoration as a family. Inspire children by the sight of their father on his knees in earnest prayer. It all starts with prayer.
- Example, character, and virtue. Our children will become whatever we raise them to be. Think about the opportunity we have to let our kids grow up seeing our rock solid faith in God, our devotion to the Church, our consistent character, our virtuous behavior, our devotion to family, our stewardship, our strong prayer life, and our focus on doing the right thing. Or, we can relinquish all of this responsibility to the media, celebrities, and their school friends.
- Our faith journey. Be the example for their faith journey. Our kids will likely pray, honor and serve Christ, volunteer, tithe generously, observe the sacraments, and be strong in their faith if they grow up in a household where Mom and Dad set the right example.
- Reading and study. We can’t teach them what we don’t understand. Read Scripture and portions of the Catechism together as a family. Read great Catholic books and break down the lessons we learn for our children.
- Teach a passion for the Eucharist. From an early age, teach them a reverence and love for the Body of Christ. Help them understand the sacred mysteries and to never take holy Mass lightly.
When I was looking for another voice on the concept of passing the faith on to our children, I had to look no further than my friend Deacon Mike Bickerstaff, cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of Integrated Catholic Life. Deacon Mike is steeped in our faith and a natural teacher through his writing and extensive ministry work in the Church. I also know the passion he has for teaching the next generation about our Catholic faith and how to live it out fully every day.
Deacon Mike is a deacon for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. He was ordained in February 2006 and is assigned to St. Peter Chanel Catholic Church where he is the director of Adult Education and Evangelization.
He cofounded the successful annual Atlanta Catholic Business Conference and is the Chaplain of the Atlanta Chapter of the Woodstock Theological Center’s Business Conference. He also cofounded and is Chaplain to the St. Peter Chanel Business Association and the Marriages Are Covenants Ministry, both of which serve as models for similar parish-based ministries. Deacon Mike and his wife, Cathy, live in Roswell, Georgia. They have two grown children and three grandchildren.
Deacon Mike, when you consider the future of Catholic children today, what are your biggest concerns?
“Today’s children are growing up in a world that is increasingly hostile to religion in general and Christianity in particular. At present the focus seems to be to keep the observance and practice of religious beliefs within the walls of the church building, but in my assessment, the trend is towards the ‘demonizing’ of all traditional Christian teachings so that one day they will be considered unacceptable anywhere at any time.
“How will children deal with these trends given the lack of foundation they are receiving of the basics of the faith?”
We know that countless Catholic families are not passing on the faith to their children. What is the special role of a Catholic father in passing on the faith?
“What is truly important? What is the one thing necessary? If fathers consider these questions, we might begin making better decisions. We are on this planet for the purpose of preparing for and attaining eternal communion with God in heaven. This should be our first and highest priority. As fathers and husbands, we have the added responsibility to lead our families to that same end. Fathers should provide leadership by the example of their lives as well as by their verbal teaching.”
What is preventing this from being the norm in Catholic homes today? What are the obstacles?
“I believe that the primary obstacle is erroneous and dangerous priorities resulting from a failure to understand the nature of our vocation and the purpose for which God made us. That is why I asked the two questions above.
“First, dads must be present to their families. A dad that is present is one who at least places a high priority on his family. That is a good start.
“Second, he must more highly value the interior qualities over the learned and natural talents and skills. For example, as great as artistic, athletic, or academic excellence is, other qualities are more important: integrity, honor, fidelity, compassion, dependability, and love of God.”
How can a Catholic man get back on track and show real courage as the spiritual leader of his family?
“First and foremost, the Catholic husband and father must surrender to Christ. He must take care of his own conversion and spiritual growth. He must live a life that is authentic, that match in word and deed, and a life that conforms to God’s plan.
“Second, he must become as involved in the spiritual life and development of his children as he is with their sports activities; be as excited by a son’s First Holy Communion as he is by his soccer team’s championship.”
If you had one opportunity to impress upon Catholic fathers and grandfathers the urgent need for their active participation in the spiritual well-being of their families, what would you share with them?
“I don’t think polls, surveys, and studies would reveal to them anything they don’t already know inside: that their good example provided to their children from the earliest possible age is going to have a more dramatic impact that anything else.
“Children watch their parents, especially their fathers, and they record what they see. Children are like video recorders, constantly making home movies. As they grow older, they will encounter challenging opportunities, problems, and circumstances. And they will dig deep into their memories and retrieve the home movie that shows them how you dealt with a similar challenge.
“We are our children’s primary teachers. Be sure you know what you are teaching. It is difficult enough to grow up gaining eternal wisdom and living according to God’s love in today’s secularized world in which immorality and irreligion are celebrated. It is almost impossible without a father who is Christ to his family.”
I want to challenge you to do a few things. Look at your children when they are sleeping tonight and think about how you can prepare them for the real world. Ask yourself if they are on the path to be faith filled, value driven, hardworking, and selfless people in a world that desperately needs these traits. Finally, be hopeful that one day when they have children of their own, they will hear the echoes of your positive influence on their lives and pass that priceless treasure on to their own children.
This post is adapted with permission from Randy Hain’s fifth and newest book, Journey to Heaven: A Road Map for Catholic Men (Emmaus Road Publishing). The book is available through Amazon.com, EmmausRoad.org, Barnes&Noble or found in your local Catholic bookstore.
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